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Twenty degrees and the hockey game's on

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  February 20, 2012 08:27 PM

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Changing up my latitudes for a few days here, so I'm putting up the gone fishin' sign on the blog. No chat or media column Friday, either. Will be back next Wednesday. I know, I'll miss you guys too. Until then, when you speak of me, speak well.

Before I board the bird, a couple of quick thoughts . . .

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I suppose it was reassuring hearing Jon Lester offer all the mea culpas that were cathartic to Red Sox' fans ears the other day; he seems genuine in having learned from his mistakes. More important, he looks like he's arrived in ready-to-get-after-it shape, a confirmation that he's motivated to put last season behind him -- and all bad seasons should some with 15 wins and a 3.47 ERA.

As for Josh Beckett, he's selectively accountable -- at least he always puts it on himself after he pitches poorly -- and that will have to be good enough. You can take the pigheaded fireballer out of Texas, but you can't take the Texas out of the pigheaded fireballer.

This post will stand as the final word from me on what happened last September, something I've said before but bears repeating. What happened last September with the booze in the clubhouse was nothing like what happened in October 2004, and it has nothing to do with the outcome. The offering of Jack Daniel's during the '04 postseason was a symbolic gesture of team unity. What Beckett, Lester and that oafish overpaid pitcher with the bum elbow whose name escapes me right now was form a clique that set them apart from the team.

Interesting hearing Bobby V. speak highly of Felix Doubront, and probably encouraging, though I'm still not always sure I know where the new Sox manager is coming from. Maybe I've underestimated Doubront -- he does have far and away the most upside of any of the fifth starter candidates (no offense, Vicente, sir), and he's out of options, so this is the time.

davis_st2201_spts__1329762519_4483.jpgGet well soon, Carl Crawford. The corner outfielders in the interim on this roster are a bit concerning. Cody Ross has a .912 career OPS against lefties, but just .698 last year. And Ryan Sweeney has a career .378 slugging percentage. For perspective, Jason Varitek slugged .423 last year.

I'm with you in wondering if David Ortiz can repeat his offensive performance of a year ago -- he's 36, he's going to decline sometime, and we've already had prolonged clues that it's not going to be fun for anyone but opposing pitchers when it happens. And at 33, coming off two straight injury-altered seasons, and having seen his OPS decline last year for the first time in his career, there are questions about whether Kevin Youkilis will ever be the force he was from 2007 through 102 games of '10. But even if Papi slows signs of slipping (say, .270-24-80) and Youkilis doesn't approach a .900 OPS again, I'm still not sweating it about this lineup. The '11 Sox led the majors with 5.4 runs per game (the Yankees were second at 5.35), and I'd bet that two among Most Valuable Player candidates Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and Adrian Gonzalez are better than they were a season ago.

Should Jason Varitek announce his retirement this week, well, it was a hell of a run, and I'll write an appropriate farewell when I get back. But until then, how about remembering how it began -- with a ninth-inning pinch-hit single off Tigers reliever Kevin Jarvis on September 24, 1997, his first at-bat in his major-league debut. Tek remained in the game to catch Mark Brandenburg for the final three outs of the Red Sox' 9-2 victory. It's too bad he didn't get into the game a bit sooner; the winning pitcher that night, earning his 12th of the season, was Tim Wakefield.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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